Welcome to my latest Parliamentary newsletter, which gives me the opportunity to wish you all a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. Christmas is a time for us to not only look back on the past year, but also to look forward to the New Year, the challenges we face and the changes we might want to make in our own lives.
For me personally, 2016 will always be remembered as the year my friend and colleague, Jo Cox, was so tragically taken from us. Jo was an energetic campaigner and represented the community she had grown up in. Jo was murdered at a constituency surgery, killed while helping her constituents and the constituency she loved so much. In the aftermath, I was proud of Northfield’s response, the vigils held in Birmingham city centre and the book of condolence which was signed by so many constituents. These have been clear demonstrations of “uniting to fight against the hate that killed her” – as Jo’s husband Brendan so profoundly said.
A particularly murderous brand of hate killed Jo and sadly the politics of hate has also claimed many thousands of other lives overseas over the past year. That’s why it is doubly important that as we approach a New Year, we uphold the values of democracy that have always been precious in our country. People have genuine disagreements based on deeply held beliefs. These may be reflected in a range of ways – from which Party they support to how they think Britain should take forward the results of the EU referendum. Debate and disagreement are parts of what democracy should be about. The key thing though is that those disagreements should always be about the issues. When they turn into hate or hostility against people because of who they are then all of us – and democracy itself – become the losers. All of us – politicians or not- can help stop that kind of atmosphere taking root in our own communities and neighbourhoods.
This Christmas many will need the support of food banks to help feed their families, too many of our friends and neighbours will be working long hours for a low wage, and our NHS will be facing unprecedented demand without the funding it needs. These challenges can and must be risen to. We cannot allow our differences to cloud that we have far more in common than divides us. We can and must meet these challenges and build a better life for our children and grandchildren.
I’ll be spending time with my family this Christmas and remembering the actions and words of Jo and Brendan Cox. In fact, Friends of Jo Cox, including the band MP4, Steve Harley, Ricky Wilson, David Gray and KT Tunstall have released a single in tribute to Jo which you can download or order on CD here. All proceeds from sales of the single will go to charities supporting the causes that were important to Jo.
I’d like to wish you all both a Merry Christmas and a very Happy New Year.
In Birmingham Northfield
In recent years, the rise of food banks in this area and the number of local people needing to rely on them has been alarming. In my constituency office we are receiving more and more calls from constituents facing financial hardship and being forced to seek help. To put things into context, in the last few months my office have issued more vouchers than we did in the whole of 2015. But then there is also a sense of hope because of the generosity of local people in and around Northfield. So many people give what they can to help support people they will probably never meet and constituents give up their time to help staff food banks like the B30 food bank based in Cotteridge and the other food banks serving people in South West Birmingham.
But people should not have to rely on this generosity. Government policies have directly led to more and more people having to turn food banks to survive and it is Government that must take action to reduce the need for food banks to play such an increasing role in Britain today. Governments are elected to tackle these problems, not to walk by on the other side or refuse to acknowledge the problems are even there in the first place. This Government has an obligation to do better.
Birmingham City Council Budget
As you will probably know, Birmingham City Council is facing another round of savage cuts to its budget next year as a result of the policies of Theresa May’s Government. Throughout the year I, along with other local Labour MPs, have pressed Ministers to change course and to give Birmingham a fairer deal, launching the #NoMoreBrumCuts campaign. We will continue to do so. In the meantime, though, Birmingham Council faces hard and painful decisions, many of which will have an impact on services in our area. They have launched a budget consultation to enable local people to have their say ahead of final decisions being made. You can see the details and give your views online here.
There will also be a consultation meeting for people living in South Birmingham on 13th January 2017, 2pm-3pm at Stirchley Baths, 2-4 Bournville Lane, Stirchley, B30 2JT. You can book your place here.
Small Business Saturday
Saturday 3rd December was Small Business Saturday (SBS) and I was delighted that again so many of you helped support our local small businesses. SBS was launched in 2013 and brought a boot to local high streets across the country. Last year’s event saw customers spend £623m at local businesses – a 24% increase on 2014. As well as encouraging shoppers back to our high streets, it is about saying Northfield is open for business and we want entrepreneurs to start new businesses here and that we recognise that they provide employment for so many local people and are a vital part of our economy locally and nationally.
Lloyds Kings Norton Green
I was recently contacted by Lloyds Bank who informed me that they are planning to close their branch on Kings Norton Green in March 2017. Lloyds have told me that this is part of a planned closure of some 200 branches nationwide and the selection of branches affected has been related to both the level of customer demand and the proximity of other branches. I understand all customers will be relocated to the nearest Lloyds branch on Pershore Road, Cotteridge (approximately 0.7 miles away) and around the corner from Kings Norton Station. Residents and Lloyds customers around the Green will be able to use the Post Office for withdrawals and deposits. I am in touch with Lloyds and passing on the thoughts and concerns of local residents, so please do get in touch to share your views. I will keep you all updated on any new information.
Brexit continues to be one of the most prominent political issues, and that is reflected in the number of emails and letters I have had from constituents in recent weeks. At the end of last month I wrote an update on Brexit, five months on from the referendum result. You can read my article for more detailhere.
In light of the High Court ruling on whether Parliament should have a say over how Britain should go about leaving the leaving the European Union, many were worried that this was about overturning the referendum result. In response to those concerns, I wrote an article in the Huffington Post to be clear that the ruling is about how Britain should leave, not if we should. You would expect Parliament to have a say over what the Government can do when it comes to your taxes, your job or your healthcare, so why is it any different when it comes to Brexit? You can see my full article here.
People across the country are concerned about this Government’s management of and record on our National Health Service. Labour has consistently warned about the threat of a funding crisis in the NHS and the impact that will have on services, social care, treatment waiting lists and A&E waiting times. Despite all of this, in his recent Autumn Statement, the Chancellor hardly had a word to say about extra investment for social care and the NHS.
That is why I, along with other Birmingham MPs, wrote to the Chancellor last month to warn that crucial services in Birmingham – including social care – are close to collapse. You can read more about thathere.
You can also read my latest update on the NHS, which I sent out to constituents who had got in touch with me about the health service.
Nurseries up and down the country face an uncertain future. The Government have announced funding for nurseries for the next two years, but beyond that many nurseries are worried about their future. Too many nurseries and early education providers are forced to close as it is. We can avoid any more closures by pushing the Government for a longer-term commitments and financial settlement for nurseries. That’s why I joined with Labour colleagues, including fellow Birmingham MPs Jack Dromey and Jess Philips, to call on the Government to commit themselves to a longer-term settlement for our nurseries.
Finally, I just wanted to share with you the advice of the NHS Stay Well campaign for ths winter. The site has some simple but important advice on illness at winter, especially for ‘vulnerable’ groups. The most important thing is to seek advice from your pharmacist or GP when you get ill at this time of year, before it gets too serious. If you have elderly or vulnerable relatives, friends or neighbours, please keep an eye out for them.